Sunday, 13 March 2011

Museumed out

Sunday 13th March 2011

MP3 track of the day: Hot in the city – Billy Idol

Weather: Hot and sticky. I've drunk so much water today it's unbelievable. Fortunately bottled water is cheap here, though sometimes I wonder whether I should just open said bottle of water and pour it over my t-shirt … cut out the middle man.

GOOOD MORNING VIETNAM! Ever since I started this blog I've been waiting to say that!

I awoke early after a fantastic nights sleep. I had forgotten how much of a difference having air-conditioning, and not having cockroaches, makes to a nights sleep. Fortunately I had a shower before I went to bed last night and so, after thoroughly brushing my teeth, I went downstairs for my 'free breakfast'. Once downstairs I met some Aussies that I had chatted to the previous night. Last night they were playing a board game and I have to say, Aussies really do take winning seriously. Anyway, as I sat downstairs I was handed a menu. On said breakfast menu there was four breakfast options (omelet, bread with egg, bread with jam or bread with butter) and two drinks (tea or coffee). I opted for the bread with butter and asked to exchange my 'tea' with a small bottle of water. I ate quickly and headed out into the city.

Even though it was only 8:30am, it was still pretty hot. Fortunately there was a cool breeze and I followed that breeze all the way to the 'War Remnants Museum'. It took me a little while to find said museum; I was on the right road however I wasn't sure if it was to the right or left of me. Once there I paid my 15,000 Dong (50p) entrance fee and was immediately confronted with x-American military weapons. Within this huge courtyard there were fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and artillery pieces. Behind these Vietnam war relics stood a huge 'box shaped' building. I spent a little while looking at the military vehicles before entering the museum.

The museum had three floors. The ground floor focused on 'anti-American' demonstrations whilst the Vietnam War was being fought. There were photographs of marches within Washington and Berlin; there were photographs of demonstrations held in Budapest, Austria and many Southern American and African nations. There was also a demonstration within London. Looking at the British demonstration photograph it highlighted to me, again, that us Brits try to put on a show … however it never has quite the same effect as within other countries. For example; the photographs of the American 'anti-war' movement shows thousands, upon thousands of angry protesters with banners flying high, acts of vandalism and big political speeches. The photograph of the demonstration in Britain showed four middle-aged people, one of which looked as though he wasn't sure why he was there (Like he had gotten off the wrong underground stop and stumbled into the photo).

As I moved up to the first floor I went into a large room with even more photos about the conflict. The museum displays were very well presented, easy to read and followed some sort of logical order. Surprisingly with all the photos, actual weapons from the war and not much written text this room still took along time to complete. I then moved onto probably the most graphic room within the whole museum, the 'effects of agent orange'. 'Agent orange' is a chemical with a very lethal poison that, when sprayed into the atmosphere, it affects anything it lands on including agricultural land and drinking water. This room displayed photos of children with the most horrendous birth defects I have ever seen. One child looked as though half of her face had melted. To add to the impact malformed foetuses were preserved in pickling jars and the whole exhibition felt like something out of 'Aliens'. This 'Agent Orange' not only killed thousands at the time – through the food they ate and the water they drank – but it has wiped out whole families indiscriminately. Those children with birth defects cannot have children of their own encase the defect spreads again. This effect doesn't just stop with the Vietnamese; some instances of 'agent orange' birth defects have occurred in American air force veterans children. Though it must be noted that the numbers heavily stack towards the Vietnamese. Once through this room I went up to the second, and final, floor which hosted a collection of Vietnam War photographs from different photographers from both sides. It featured famous photos (the North Vietnamese tank running through Saigon's presidential palace gates) and some not so famous. It was a huge collection and, considering it was now 10:45am, I didn't have time to read all the information present. You see, most Vietnamese attractions seem to close for lunch between midday and 1pm. I had just over an hour to finish the third floor, go back outside, and visit an exhibition about the South Vietnam's prison camps.

The rest of the third floor was devoted to a child's project; the aim was for children to draw their ideas of peace. There were many drawings of unity, family and farming within a rice field. All of it was charming though a little dull. Once out of the main building I turned right, past the American fighter jets and into the 'Phu Quoc prison camp' exhibition. Phu Quoc is a large island at the most south-west tip of Vietnam (looking at the map it's actually closer to Cambodia than Vietnam). During the Vietnam War (and actually, it was also used by the French previously) this island was turned into a prisoner of war camp where inmates got tortured. Looking at the methods of torture my least favorite (well, I really didn't like any of them) was the one where the guard would break the victims teeth using a big pair of pliers. It reminded me off Cambodia's 'Toul Seng prison' and it brought home to me that inhumane torture didn't just happen within Cambodia. It was actually quite shocking to think that the American's were heavily involved within these atrocities (though, with Guantanamo bay, I don't know why it was shocking).

I left the museum trying to weigh up the truth from the bias. Most of the exhibitions had been backed up with accounts or photographs. I think that most of the text used was accurate however, just like in Laos, the use of 'American Imperialists and their puppet regime' was still apparent, though not used as much. I therefore believe that the evidence against the American, and South Vietnam coalition, was factual however there was no mention, no mention what so ever, of any atrocities from the North Vietnamese. Come to think about it, there was very little about the North Vietnamese at all. The whole museum was pretty negative focusing on all the American wrong doings. I wondered if Hanoi had a museum that focused on the North Vietnamese weapons and acts of war.

As I left the museum I glanced at my watch, 11:30am. My next stop was the Reunification Palace however, as it was now closed until 1pm, I decided to break for lunch. Could I find somewhere to eat ... could I heck. In the end I must have opted for the most expensive restaurant in all of Ho Chi Minh City. 180,000 dong (£5) it cost me for a sandwich, drink and a cake. In all honestly the sandwich was huge, and it did fill me up, however I needed to find cheaper places to eat. I can buy a sandwich, cake and a drink for less in the UK.

To use up the time I had left I took further photos of Ho Chi Minh City before the palace re-opened. I joined the queue and paid 30,000 (almost a £1) to enter. I had my bag scanned by security and I was cleared. First of all I took a couple of photos of the grounds before entering this huge building. As some of you are aware, the insides of buildings don't interest me half as much as the outside, and this one was no exception. High ceilings, big red carpets, nice furniture and many 'no entry' signs littered the building. I didn't spend a huge amount of time checking out all four floors however the building did give a nice view of the city. The basement was the final floor I had to check out. Used as a military command center during the Vietnam War maps, telephones, desks, chairs, typewriters and radio equipment were placed strategically within each room. Surprisingly, this wasn't that interesting due to very limited English translation. I preferred the British 'Battle Bunker' within Singapore.

I made my way out of the palace and onto the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. As I walked to my final museum of the day I took stock of the city. Overall its one of the nicest places I've been to within South East Asia. There's very little rubbish on the streets and you can, mostly, walk on the footpaths. The traffic is still manic and as of yet I cannot work out when its safe for pedestrians to cross roads, however the city certainly has a more affluent feel to it than Phnom Penh.

It didn't take me long to reach the 'Ho Chi Minh City' museum. As it was 2pm I checked to see when the museum closed; 5pm was the ticket saleswoman's answer and so I paid the 15,000 dong (50p) to enter. The 'Ho Chi Minh City' museum was located within an old French colonial building; it was a rather pretty building. I went into the entrance way to find a bride and groom having wedding photos taken up the grand stair case. She was pretty hot and I gave the groom the secret 'you've done alright' mens signal. With my white legs, badly designed shorts and sweaty t-shirt I decided not to get in the way of the photos and so I turned left and went around the ground floor exhibitions which focused on Ho Chi Minh Cities economic stance. I was pretty 'museumed out' by this time and so I rushed around the exhibition. I also rushed around the 'nature and archeology', the 'history of the foundation and development' and the 'industry and handicraft' exhibitions. There were three problems with this museum:

  • It wasn't very riveting.

  • There wasn't that much in English.

  • Due to using an old French colonial building the exhibition rooms were everywhere. Some weren't in any logical order and some were hard to find.

I finished the ground floor and went up to the second. Upstairs mainly focused on the Vietnam War. As I had spent whole the morning reading about the war I opted to breeze through the exhibition and go to the final room which was all about Vietnam's past and present currency (oh goodie). I left the museum after an hour and a half. It was now 3:30pm; I took a few photos of the areas I passed through before reaching my guesthouse around 4:00pm. I traveled up the eight flights of steps (minding my head on the low sealing) before dropping my bag off and heading straight back out again. My target was the 'Cho Benh Thanh' market; Ho Chi Minh Cities largest indoor market and only a ten minute walk from my accommodation.

The market held the usual clothing and food items. There was the usual crowds, rubbish and the smell of fish. I squeezed myself through many small gaps locating souvenir shops. I decided, as I had loads of stuff to post home from Cambodia, I would do my Vietnam souvenir shopping now. Eventually I purchased two wooden objects and a painting … thing. Total cost, £4.00. It would appear that, within Ho Chi Minh City at least, transport, tours, drinks, clothes and souvenirs are cheap whereas accommodation and food is expensive. I came back to my guesthouse, went back up the eight flights of steps (almost hitting my head on the low sealing) and put my new souvenirs with the other stuff to post home. I came back downstairs, extended my stay for a further two nights, and surfed the internet with my netbook ... which is where I am now.

Later tonight there is a restaurant, named within my guidebook not too far away, with apparently 'decent priced' meals. I want an early night tonight as I want to be up early again tomorrow to walk across the city to the post office, and then the Jade Pagoda and History Museum, my final museum to visit. I hope to complete the above by midday and then I want to photograph the riverfront as I haven't been there yet. This would complete the city and, with my extra two days, I hope to visit the Vietnam War tunnels and the Mekong Delta. It's all go, go, go here!

Toodle Pip!

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